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How an Idea at a Homebuilders Association Meeting Grew into a Statewide Skilled Trades Initiative

RCS Iowa Skilled Trades
May 8, 2019

By Karen L. Edwards, RCS Editor.

Iowa Skilled Trades was started in 2017 to address the labor shortage and encourage youth to consider a career in the trades.

We love learning about new initiatives that will have a positive impact on the future of the roofing industry so when RoofersCoffeeShop® partner, Vickie Sharples, shared with me an organization she came across on Instagram, we knew we wanted to know more about them. The group she found is called Iowa Skilled Trades.

A visit to their website told me that this group is “A Team of Industry Pros Bringing Initiatives, Education & Awareness to Skilled Trades in Iowa.” We wanted to know more – what were they doing, how were they doing it, how did they get started? 

To answer these questions, I had the opportunity to have a phone interview with Brandon Patterson CSP, CGP, CAPS, Workforce Development for the Home Builders Association of Iowa (HBAI), the group behind the Iowa Skilled Trades initiative. Brandon only recently joined the staff at the HBAI after having served on the board and as a volunteer for many years. He grew up in a family plumbing business and that is how he came to be a board member at HBAI.

Brandon said that every year, they would get together for their board meetings and talk about the need for builders, tradesman and craftsman, but that no one ever really seemed to do anything about it. “We are fans of the programs out there that support the development of interest in the trades, such as SkillsUSA and Keep Craft Alive, but we felt like our investment in those programs wasn’t making an impact in Iowa and we wanted a local initiative,” explained Brandon.

“A few years ago, we kind of got this crazy idea to make something happen. We got together with our local industry and started privately funding a program at one of our schools here in Des Moines called Central Academy that does industry-specific training for high schoolers. It could be nursing, aviation, pathology, CSI but they didn’t have an organized skilled trades program, so we raised the money to provide the funding to establish a skilled trades curriculum there.”

Their goal was to raise $900,000 to cover the first three years, but after getting started they realized they were going to need a little more for classroom build outs and other costs. They ended up raising $1.6 million and the school now has plumbing, HVAC, drywall, flooring, welding, framing, roofing and more. “We are in the process of switching over the curriculum to NCCER, which is a more of a widely utilized curriculum by both unions and non-unions,” said Brandon. “Year one will be core classes and the second and third year is where they specialize in a trade.”

Brandon said that after they raised the money to get the program in place, he was frustrated that so many people had no idea that the program existed and wanted to get the word out. They invited Mike Rowe of Dirty Jobs fame to visit and speak about not only the need for skilled trades but to talk about what he saw at Central Academy and other Iowa programs. They organized a fundraising event that brought more than 1,600 people together and raised enough money for the group to continue their momentum. They put the nearly $90,000 that the event raised into scholarship funds to help cover costs for smaller programs such as the Professional Women in Building’s summer day camps for kids.

Their next initiative is called “Build my Future.” These are hands-on construction career days that are being held in four cities across the state of Iowa. The goal is to reach 4,500 youth and adults in Sioux City, Des Moines, Cedar Rapid/Iowa City and Quad Cities. “It’s a career fair but it’s hands on,” explained Brandon. “We’ve got roofing, plumbing, carpentry, welding, heavy equipment and we also have AR and VR. We want people to understand there is a tech component to it as well.”

The kids come from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the day and then from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. the event features an adult job fair. “We partner with other groups including the FFA, Scouts, SkillsUSA and other groups to try to bring the kids through the doors. Our goal is to expand next year into two or three additional locations.”

“Like everything we do at Iowa Skilled Trades, this event is not just builder specific,” Brandon said. “We have collaborated with union shops, commercial and residential associations, department of education, workforce development programs and others to make sure we are representing everything this industry has to offer. We like to make sure we are making a big lasting impact on the students with our events and from there let the student decide which path best suits them.”

They’ve also gotten very involved in supporting Professional Women in Building, partnering with them to host educational events, an award-winning girls’ construction camp and to develop tool kits for schools – including visits to the schools by members.

Iowa Skilled Trades began in 2017 under the HBAI educational corporation and their goal is to establish themselves as a separate entity so they can expand their reach beyond the community of HBA members.  In just two years’ time they have seen tremendous interest and success.

Learn more about them at www.iowaskilledtrades.com.



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